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John Bibby, the fourth of five sons and founder of the shipping company that still bears his name, was born at Eccleston, near Ormskirk in Lancashire on 19th February 1775. In his late teens he went to Liverpool where he worked for James Hatton, a ship's iron merchant who produced anchors and chains. From that moment John Bibby developed a keen interest in ironmongery which, for many years, was the more profitable aspect of his business especially as it involved investment in land and buildings which ultimately enhanced his fortune.

In 1801, at the age of 26, he diversified his business interests when he established a shipbroking company, Bibby & Hall, with William Hall at Dukes Dock. His first venture in shipping was to take a small share in the galliot Dove and eventually he began to operate ships, in which he would have a substantial share, exclusively under his management. In Liverpool at that time there was a tendency for shipowners to trust ship managers who had an investment in the ship as it was assumed that the ships would be well looked after, well insured and profitably run. The ships would fundamentally be financed by the better off citizens of the city who would provide the capital to purchase the vessels. Consequently, a number Liverpool shipowners grew to prominence long before the concept of the Limited Liability company came about by Act of Parliament in 1896. Until that time shares in the 'common purse' principal for investing in ships cargoes and their voyages dated from Phoenician times, about 2000BC.

By 1805 John had formed an offshoot cargo broking merchants house with a John Highfield and, as partners, they formed John Bibby & Co. Their first sailing ship was the galliot Margaret in which they held the majority of the sixty-fourth shares. The ship was named after is new wife, Mary Margaret Mellard, who had brought with her a dowry of £2,5000 and a lot of enthusiasm for John's business aims. With this backing John severed his links with William Hall apart from a financial link when the new company was formed.

John's first son, Joseph Mellard Bibby, was born in 1806, the same year that Britain, as a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars which had started in 1803, declared a continental blockade from the Elbe to Brest. Any ship attempting to cross the blockade was liable to capture and confiscation which severely restricted trade routes to much of the northern Europe.

In 1807 a regular packet service was established from Parkgate to Dublin and, by this time, all links with William Hall had been severed and John Bibby had 64th shares in seven vessels. John Bibby (II) was born in 1810.

John Bibby

Mary Mellard Bibby

When sailings dates were advertised in Liverpool during 1812 the name Bibby & Highfield came into use although the firm itself was still known as John Bibby & Co. The first ship built for the company was named Highfield after the other partner. Initially all the vessels owned by the company were small and it wasn't until 1825 that a ship which exceed 100 feet in length was acquired. However, they were all well founded and had a reputation for excellent seaworthiness. The passenger accommodation was well above average for that era and much sought after. Since that day the company has always adopted the policy of providing superior accommodation, a policy which has contributed much its longevity. Thomas and James Jenkinson Bibby were born in 1812.
On 8th June 1812 President Madison of the USA declared war on Great Britain even though a message agreeing to his demands had been sent but arrived too late. As a consequence Bibby's increased their trade to the West Indies where a premium tariff prevailed; the merchant ships sailing in navy protected convoys.

In 1814 the Treaty of Kiel was signed which re-opened the Baltic to British traders and immediately Bibby's commenced trading to that area. Later in the same year the Treaty of Ghent was signed which ended the Anglo-American war. Sailings to Leghorn (Livorno) were established, in competition with Patrick Henderson out of Glasgow and Leith, in 1817 which resulted in the ordering of new sailing ships rather than purchasing second hand tonnage.

The partnership with John Highfield was dissolved in 1821 although he remained a close business associates, at one, time, sharing the same office. In those days partners were equally liable for profits and losses and if one partner felt that he didn't have sufficient equity to meet potential liabilities it was prudent to dissolve the partnership. The company, however, remained as John Bibby & Co.

John Bibby diversified his business interests in 1827 when he invested in property and set up his Liverpool iron merchants enterprise. He advertised himself as "iron merchants and shipowners", the order of words indicating where his priorities lay. When the Honourable East India Company's monopoly was rescinded in April 1934 Bibby decided to send his ships to the Spice Islands and India. Initially trade was spasmodic but as it developed his interest in the venture grew.

James Jenkinson Bibby

By 1836 the company owned 18 ships and was trading to Lisbon, the Mediterranean, South America and Bombay with the occasional voyage to Canton, the only Chinese port open to them, during the tea season. In the same year, so that his sons could enter the business, all in-house business connections with John Highfield were severed and he set up a shipbroking business and became a shipowner in his own right, albeit, in a small way.
In 1839 a copper smelting business was established across the Mersey at Seacombe which, apart from extending the iron merchants iron, enabled Bibby to produce his own copper sheeting with which the bottoms of wooden hulls were covered.

The family suffered a tragedy in 1840 when, on 19th July, 65 year old John Bibby, who was returning to his home, Mount Pleasant on Linacre Marsh, was attacked and clubbed by footpads who took no more than his hunting watch. The unconscious man was thrown into a pond where he subsequently drowned. At the time three of his four sons were engaged in the business. James Jenkinson Bibby, the youngest was the office manager at Liverpool where he remained, John Bibby junior was his father's agent in India and returned to Liverpool on his father's death. Joseph Mellard Bibby was a partner but concentrated more on the metals businesses rather than the shipping side. The fourth son, Thomas, had gone into the Church. As a mark of respect to their father the company was restyled John Bibby & Sons.

The sailing fleet continued to expand but in 1850 Bibby's began to look towards steam propulsion and, as a result, took a financial stake in the single screw steam Rattler. The Rattler and her sister, the Osmanli, were owned by Vianna & Jones and formed part of the Liverpool & Mediterranean Steam Shipping Co., a newly established company which had Bibby, Vianna and Jones as partners. The new company inaugurated services to the French and Italian ports in the Mediterranean. At that time the staff of John Bibby & Sons included the 28 year old Frederick R. Leyland who worked for the new company and who, within nine years, became a partner and eventually bought the company's ships. Three years later a regular service to Portugal was commenced using the small steamer Douro.

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